Ah, myths, urban legends and conspiracy theories -- don’t you just love ‘em?
Still, you would think that in this day and age, when information flows more freely than ever before, they would be less prevalent than they were in the pre-Internet days.
But unsubstantiated misinformation and baseless speculation are still freely available, maybe more so, and willful ignorance is nearly as common as unavoidable ignorance once was.
If you really believe that 9/11 was an inside job, that U.S. President Barack Obama is a Kenyan, that man never really walked on the moon, or that the Loch Ness monster and Sasquatch were somehow involved in an international government conspiracy to hide the facts about flying saucers that landed in Roswell, then somebody, somewhere, probably has collected “evidence” that confirms your belief.
The energy sector is not without its own persistent myths -- in fact, certain aspects of the energy field make it ideal for urban legends and crackpot theories. The fabulous riches and enormous power that would accrue to anybody who found a cheap, or better still free, previously undiscovered energy source is the stuff of dreams.
Add in ready-made villains in the form of the big oil companies and governments concerned with the strategic importance of energy, and you have a fertile breeding ground for persistent myths. Let’s look at two common ones.
Perpetual Motion. History is full of scams based on claims to have found a perpetual motion machine. If such a machine could be created, harvesting the energy released, or even “created,” by that motion would provide the world with cheap, eternally renewable energy and the inventor with untold riches. Sounds pretty cool, huh?
The problem is that the existence of such a machine goes against the first two laws of thermodynamics. The first law states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, merely transferred; the second is that the entropy of an isolated system does not decrease. Taken together, these two laws make the existence of a perpetual motion machine impossible.
Of course, the laws of thermodynamics could be wrong and it could be that they have simply not yet been disproven, but people have been trying to disprove those laws and create a perpetual motion machine ever since they were first written about over 150 years ago. So far every attempt has failed. Given a choice between that simple fact and the raving of somebody who rants on a fringe website that a perpetual motion machine already exists but is being hidden by big oil or some international government conspiracy, I know which I will choose.
The Tesla Free Energy Generator. The late 19th and early 20th century inventor, Nikola Tesla, has seen a recent surge in popularity. He is seen by some as a freethinking, brilliant scientist who almost single-handedly paved the way for the modern technological world. This may be somewhat of an exaggeration, but there is no doubt that he filed patents for some significant inventions, such as number 382,280 granted in 1888 for the transmission of electricity by alternating current, or A.C.
Related Article: Eight Energy Myths Explained
The energy myth that surrounds Tesla sprang from a claim he once made that he had invented both a “free energy” machine and a method of transmitting that energy wirelessly. He started working on a generator that, in his words, “would not consume any fuel” in the 1890s. In 1901, he was granted a U.S. patent for an “Apparatus for the Utilization of Radiant Energy,” and by 1931, he was ready to claim that he had invented a machine to harness the power of “cosmic rays.”
That isn’t as ridiculous as it may sound. We have been harnessing the power of cosmic rays from the Sun for years; it’s called solar power. Rather than using the Sun’s direct rays and their heat, however, Tesla’s idea was to link the positive charges in the atmosphere with negative charges in the ground and produce an electric current.
This may be theoretically possible, but most estimates suggest that the amount of energy generated would, in practice, be too small to be of any use. This is where the wacky conspiracy theories start to take over.
Many claim that Tesla’s invention was successful and could have supplied the world with abundant, free energy, but was suppressed by the evil oil industry, or the government, or some other malevolent force. Others claim that it is perfectly possible to produce a machine that would provide the world with “free” energy today, but some giant conspiracy among those governments and corporations exists to deny funding for the necessary research.
Simple logic tells you that this is nonsense. You have only to look at the progression of solar power to see that the energy business, rather than destroying any promising new technology, will seek to own and profit from it. According to this estimate, the French company Total S.A. alone has over $2.4 billion invested in the solar industry.
As for the world’s governments conspiring to prevent the building of such a machine, that requires a belief that these governments can run a supremely effective cover up for decades. In my experience, governments just aren’t that efficient.
It is not that the search for new, innovative means of energy production should stop. While perpetual motion may be theoretically impossible and Tesla’s idea may not produce enough power to be of any practical or commercial use, that doesn’t mean that investigating them can’t result in useful information.
It can – but by the same token, it doesn’t mean that somewhere either, or both, of these things exist and are being kept from a deserving public by a giant conspiracy.
By Martin Tillier of Oilprice.com